After ten days of waiting, the Yankees have officially signed Stephen Drew to a one-year contract, the team announced. He will reportedly earn $5M with $1.5M in incentives based on plate appearances. As expected, Eury Perez was designated for assignment to clear a 40-man roster spot.
Perez, 24, was claimed off waivers from the Nationals in September. He went 2-for-10 with a stolen base and three strikeouts for New York late last season and actually started two games in center field in the final series against the Red Sox, after the Yankees were eliminated from postseason and Jacoby Ellsbury was nursing an ankle injury.
At best, Perez was fourth on the center field depth chart behind Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, and Chris Young. He’s a classic speed and defense type who figured to serve as the up-and-down extra outfielder in 2015. Ramon Flores or even Jose Pirela is in line to be that guy now.
Thirteen questions this week. Use the “For The Mailbag” form in the sidebar to send us questions at any time. As I say every week, I know it doesn’t look like the question goes through, but trust me, it does.
Matt asks: Would you trade Brett Gardner for Dustin Ackley and Roenis Elias?
Yes, I would. I think the Mariners would say no though. Ackley isn’t as good as Gardner, either at the plate or in the field, but he is only 26 and his offense has improved the last three years, going from a 75 wRC+ in 2012 to 87 in 2013 to 97 in 2014. His defense in left is average at worst too, based on the numbers and the eye test. Elias is also 26 and he’s as generic as generic lefties get. Okay strikeout rate (7.86 K/9 and 20.6 K%), okay walk rate (3.52 BB/9 and 9.2 BB%), okay ground ball rate (45.4%), okay velocity (averaged 91.8 mph), slightly better than league average swing-and-miss rates on the changeup (17.7%) and curveball (14.9%). His season ended two weeks early due to a flexor strain in his elbow, but supposedly he’s healthy now. In a nutshell, Elias can eat innings and has at least a little bit of upside. It would be four years of Gardner for three of Ackley and five of Elias, so I think the Yankees would have to kick in a prospect. A decent one ready to help at the MLB level too. Seattle asked for Bryan Mitchell in exchange for Ackley last year, so I think it would have to be someone like that. I love Gardner, but I would definitely trade him for Ackley and Elias in a straight one-for-two deal.
Dustin asks: Can you recall the last time the Yankees had a defense as good as they have right now? Outside of Beltran, the worst you can say about any fielder is that they are above average.
I think you could argue Stephen Drew is only average at second because of his inexperience there, though Dustin’s point stands. Carlos Beltran is the team’s only well-below-average defender right now and it’s been a long time since the Yankees had a defense this good. The Yankees have had a below-average Defensive Efficiency in each of the last years, and last season it was a .702 DE — that basically means they turned 70.2% of batted balls into outs — while the league average was .705. The 2010 team had a .719 DE and the 1998 team had a .723 DE, which is easily the franchise’s best mark over the last 25 years. As long as everyone stays healthy, I think the Yankees will be among the best defensive teams in baseball in 2015. They’ll have to be if they want to contend.
Tom asks: Rank these in order of importance and then in probability: Tanaka’s health, Pineda’s health, Sabathia’s effectiveness, McCann hits like he did in September, A-rod hits 17 homers.
This is totally subjective, of course. Here’s my list based on importance:
- Masahiro Tanaka‘s health
- Michael Pineda‘s health
- Brian McCann hitting like he did late in the season
- CC Sabathia being effective
- Alex Rodriguez doing anything
And now my list based on probability:
- McCann hitting like he did late in the season
- Pineda staying healthy
- Sabathia being effective
- Tanaka staying healthy
- A-Rod doing anything
As it stands, I think the Yankees have just enough offense to get by, which is why I have the two pitchers at the top of the importance list. I think you could argue that, when healthy, Tanaka and Pineda are the two best pitchers in the AL East. Getting 350 innings out of them instead of 150 could easily be the difference between going to the postseason or not.
Paul asks: How would it change the game if, while sticking to a 25 man roster, teams were allowed to put any 9 guys in the lineup and any 9 guys in the field? Basically, infinite DH’s.
Since you’re sticking with a 25-man roster, you’re still limited to 13 position players. Actually, in this case, I’d go with 14 position players and a six-man bullpen, emphasizing multi-inning relievers. I think having one extra DH would be more beneficial than having one extra reliever. So with 14 position players, you could “platoon” five, meaning one player hits and the other plays the field. You’d still need four guys to both hit and play the field, and I’d stick those four guys at the corner positions while platooning good defenders and good hitters in center, at shortstop, at second base, at catcher, and at pitcher. Make sense? Those are the positions where the offensive bar is the lowest and the defensive demands are high. Have a dedicated fielder at each position, then just let someone who can mash hit for them. Even with the extra hitters I think the result would be more less in baseball overall because there are many more good defenders than good hitters right now. A Double-A player like Mason Williams, who is a top notch defensive center fielder, could be your CF defense guy, for example.
Jeff asks: Is Jose Ramirez a full reliever now, or is there still the idea that he may be a starter in the organization?
Nope, he’s a full-time reliever. They moved him last year. Ramirez couldn’t stay healthy as a starter — he couldn’t even stay healthy as a reliever last season — and it got to the point where they were either going to have to try to get something out of him as a reliever or get nothing out of him as a starter. Ramirez has had so many arm injuries over the years that it seems like only a matter of time before he blows out completely. The Yankees are trying to get what they can out of him at the MLB level before that happens because Ramirez does have nasty stuff. He could have a real impact in relief if he ever stays on the field.
Neaks asks: It’s clear from your post on closers that the Yanks are going to have an abundance of good arms in the bullpen next year. Because of that, is there a chance that the Yankees will encourage starters to “air it out” more and only shoot for ~6 innings max? It would theoretically improve their performance in those innings, and it’s not like the bullpen only has one or two guys you could go to with a small lead. Thoughts?
It’s possible, though they would have to be careful not to burn out their best relievers. Just because Dellin Betances can go out and get you six outs in one game doesn’t mean you want him to do it every other day. The Yankees do have enough bullpen arms to keep guys fresh, but it’s not like they’ll send down Betances or Andrew Miller when they need a breather and the team needs a fresh arm. Joe Girardi‘s been very good at managing his relievers’ workloads and I’m sure that will be the case next year. If anything, the Yankees might try the “air it out” approach with one or two starters, not all five.
Travis L. asks: Do you have any idea which 2014 IFA signees are destined for the states and which start at the DSL level? Some were more polished than other, right?
I have no idea and there’s a good chance the Yankees haven’t decided yet either. The team has been pretty aggressive with their top international prospects in recent years (Miguel Andujar, Luis Torrens, Leonardo Molina, etc.), skipping them right over the Dominican Summer League and bringing them to the rookie Gulf Coast League, and I’m sure that’ll happen this year. The best prospects they signed last summer (according to the consensus rankings) were SS Dermis Garcia, 3B Nelson Gomez, and OF Juan De Leon, and I think all three will come stateside this season. Everyone else might have to wait a year or two, like most international prospects. Remember we’re talking about 16-year-old kids here. Developing them into big leaguers (and trade chips!) will be a long process. International free agency is not about instant gratification.
Vinny asks: What’s the hold up with the Stephen Drew signing? Think the Yankees are trying to move Brendan Ryan rather than removing someone off the 40 man roster?
That’s possible. The Yankees moved very quickly with all of their other deals this offseason — the Didi Gregorius trade, the Nathan Eovaldi trade, the Andrew Miller signing, and the Chase Headley signing all went from rumor to agreement to press release within about four hours — but the Drew thing has been hanging for ten days now. It could be that they’re trying to make a trade to clear a 40-man roster spot rather than simply designating someone for assignment, or it could just be that Drew is vacationing with his family on some remote desert island right now and hasn’t been able to take his physical yet. Not really sure.
Zach asks: Brandon Beachy is still out there. I know he is recovering from TJ for the 2nd time, but would he be worth a look, even if he is not ready until mid-season?
Depends on the cost, as always. It was reported last week that he has six offers and was planning to pick a new team by the weekend, but that didn’t happen. Beachy is attractive because he is only 28, has a 3.23 ERA (3.34 FIP) in 267.2 career innings, and will remain under team control as an arbitration-eligible player in 2016, but there’s really no way to know how he will come back from his second Tommy John surgery in the span of 21 months. And remember, if he wants a 40-man roster spot, the Yankees would have to cut a healthy, ready to play player to make room for him. I’m inclined to say “pass” if he wants more than a minor league deal.
Frank M. asks: If Ian Desmond is potentially on the block wouldn’t trading Didi and another mid tier prospect make sense? Last year on contract for Desmond. Opposite players as Desmond’s defense is sub-par but his bat is above average.
Desmond is one of those guys who is better defensively than the numbers indicate. He’s not elite or anything, but the eye test suggests he’s better than the numbers say. Anyway, I suppose Didi Gregorius plus a prospect for Desmond would make sense for the Yankees, but the Nationals aren’t going to trade no worse than their fourth best player for Gregorius and a prospect. They’re a win now team and want MLB impact. Besides, Washington just acquired Yunel Escobar (Frank sent the question in before the Yunel trade), who figures to replace Desmond at short until prospect Trea Turner is ready. The Yankees could trade for Desmond and would be better in 2015, then give him $150M for his decline years next offseason, or they could actually give Gregorius a shot to see what he can do. What are the odds age 25-29 Didi can match age 29-33 Desmond for a fraction of the cost, especially given the latter’s scary strikeout trend? Better than most people think, I’d say.
Rob asks: With Arizona needing a catcher what would they they give up for either Murphy or Sanchez? Would it be crazy to ask for Braden Shipley or Brandon Drury?
I love John Ryan Murphy and think Gary Sanchez has gone overlooked recently, but yes, it would be crazy to ask for Shipley, who I feel is underrated in the pantheon of the game’s best pitching prospects. I’ll bet on a guy with a mid-90s fastball, two above-average second pitches, and elite athleticism all day, every day. D’Backs GM Dave Stewart recently said the price is too high for catching and I assume Shipley is beyond their comfort zone. Arizona has been trying to add young arms this offseason, not subtract them. They might be more open to moving Drury, who is more or less the third base version of Rob Refsnyder. I think the Yankees should hang onto Sanchez and Murphy for the time being, unless a team comes offering something more than the D’Backs seem willing to give up.
Justin asks: With G Jones on board is he the automatic back up 1B or will we see McCann and possibly ARod get spring training reps there?
Girardi and Brian Cashman both said the team has spoken to A-Rod about trying first base in Spring Training, but there’s no word on whether that will actually happen. I assume Jones will be the backup first baseman next year, though McCann could always get some reps there. He played first last season basically as an emergency option and it was rough. He wasn’t good, which isn’t surprising considering he’d never played there before. Jones is the logical choice to back up Teixeira at first in 2015.
Tucker asks: Who would you rather have for the rest of his contract: Brian McCann or Joe Mauer. Mauer has more money left, and has already moved out from behind the plate. However, McCann is sure to follow suit soon, and is not as productive a hitter. I would probably say McCann because of the added value of his pitch framing. Thoughts?
It has to be McCann. They’re both signed through 2018, but Mauer is one year older and is owed $92M while McCann is owed $68M. Mauer is definitely the better hitter — his down year in 2014 was a .277/.361/.371 (106 wRC+) line — but he’s no longer a catcher, so his value took a huge hit. I understand why the Twins did it, Mauer has had some concussion issues and they’re trying to protect him, but he’s less valuable on the field nonetheless. McCann is still a well-above-average defensive catcher with enough power to remain a threat at the plate. I expect both Mauer and McCann to rebound with the bat this year, but the difference in money and position means I would rather have McCann going forward. And that’s coming from a guy who thinks Mauer will in the Hall of Fame when it’s all said and done.
Here is your open thread for the night. The Rangers are the only local team in action tonight — the Knicks played this afternoon in London and I assume they lost — though there is some college basketball on as well. Talk about the games, the pitch clock idea, or anything else here. Enjoy.
Earlier this week, the Yankees (finally!) announced their 2015 coaching staff, most notably adding a new hitting coach and assistant hitting coach. They also added a new infield coach in Joe Espada, who also takes over as third base coach. (Espada spent 2014 as a special assistant to Brian Cashman.) Robbie Thomson is shifting to bench coach and Tony Pena is returning to his old role as first base coach. Got it? Good.
Under Thomson last season the Yankees had 21 runners thrown out at home, the fourth most in baseball. There were definitely some egregious sends on Thomson’s part last summer. We all saw that. But, under Thomson from 2009-13, the Yankees had the third, 18th, 29th, 17th, and 27th most runners thrown out at home. So that’s two good years, two bad years, and two average years in the six with Thomson at third base. That averages out to … well … average.
For many reasons, the Yankees had a lot of runners thrown out at home last season. One of those reasons was Thomson. Other reasons include slow runners, great relay throws, good hops for the catcher, and plain ol’ luck. There were other factors in play too but those are the big ones. Point is, there’s a whole lot that goes into this game we call baseball, and pinning the team’s issues with having runners thrown out at the plate last year on the third base coach is at best only partially correct.
The 2014 Yankees, as detailed in this very space back in October, were not a very good base-running team last season. They did steal a lot of bases with a high success rate — 112 steals and 81.1% success rate were fifth and second best in MLB, respectively — but they were terrible when it came to going first-to-third on a single, advancing on wild pitches, stuff like that. I mean literally worst in baseball according to the numbers. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury stole a lot of bases, though stolen bases are only one piece of the base-running pie.
The 2015 Yankee do figure to be a little better just because Didi Gregorius has taken the extra base 55% of the time of his career (first-to-thirds, etc.), well above the ~40% league average. He doesn’t steal a lot of bases but he does take the extra bag on base hits. Chase Headley‘s and Stephen Drew‘s days of being double-digit stolen base threats are likely a thing of the past and neither has rated well at taking the extra base these last few years. Alex Rodriguez used to be an elite base-runner but with two surgically repaired hips at age 39? Nope.
New third base coach Joe Espada is going to face the same challenge Thomson faced the last two years: balancing the need to be aggressive to score runs while having a generally slow team. The Yankees had 21 guys thrown out at the plate last summer and what that number doesn’t tell you is how many times Thomson made what appeared to be a bad decision sending a runner home only to have it work out because the throw was off-line. You know, the kind of thing that happens in just about every baseball game ever. Someone you have to force the issue.
The Yankees have had a below-average offense the last two seasons, and these days stringing together three or four hits to create a rally is really tough because of infield shifts and all that, so I think Thomson did have to be aggressive with his sends as the third base coach. The team simply didn’t have as many opportunities to score as they had in the past, so he had to try to create runs and sometimes hope for that off-line throw or the catcher being unable to apply the tag on time.
Did Thomson maybe take that too far this past season? Yeah, possibly. But the Yankees had to push the envelope in these situations and they will have to continue doing so under Espada. Once upon a time the Yankees could sit around and wait for the big multi-run homer. That isn’t the case anymore. Pure station-to-station baseball won’t work too well given the hitters on the roster, but, at the same time, running at will won’t work as well either. A balance has to be struck somewhere.
In case you’re wondering, the Marlins had the 12th, 26th, eighth, and 24th most runners thrown out at the plate with Espada as their third base coach from 2010-13. And that tells us pretty much nothing about how he’ll perform as the third base coach in New York this year. Different rosters, different players, everything’s different. Espada has to find a way to push the envelope as the third base coach while not exposing the, shall we say, speed limitations of some players on the roster. That’s something Thomson struggled with in 2014.
With David Robertson now a White Sox (Sock?), the Yankees bullpen will be anchored by Dellin Betances and the newly signed Andrew Miller not just this coming season, but hopefully the next four years as well. Miller was signed to replace Robertson — the Yankees actually signed Miller first then let Robertson walk — and gives the team an elite lefty to pair with their elite righty.
Betances, as you know, transformed himself from a starter with major command issues into a dominant reliever two years ago. Miller went through the same exact thing, except he did it all in MLB, not hidden away in the minors where no one could see. Miller’s shortcomings as a starter were on full display as a high draft pick (sixth overall in 2006) who was traded for Miguel Cabrera and later pitched with the Red Sox.
During his time with the Marlins, the 29-year-old Miller had a 5.89 ERA (4.49 FIP) with an ugly walk rate (5.1 BB/9 and 12.1 BB%) and an unimpressive strikeout rate (7.2 K/9 and 17.1 K%) in 220 innings. “I struggled. I didn’t play very well (with the Marlins) — kind of went backwards, developed some bad habits,” said Miller in a recent YES feature (video link). “Still, at the same time, in the long run I feel I’m better for it. I think maybe those struggles make me a better pitcher now.”
The Red Sox acquired Miller in a minor trade during the 2010-11 offseason and tried to make it work as a starter, but it wasn’t happening. Miller had a 5.54 ERA (5.12 FIP) in 65 innings during the 2011 season, most working out of the rotation. He was out of minor league options heading into the 2012 season, so the Red Sox were going to have to make a decision about his future with the team, but a Spring Training injury bought them some time.
“I got hurt in Spring Training. I pulled my hamstring — just a minor, fluky ‘what are you gonna do?’ thing,” said Miller to YES. “It put me behind (the other pitchers in camp) and they moved me to the bullpen. I think that was a real blessing in disguise. Ever since that happened, I’ve continually gotten better and better pitching out of the bullpen.”
Miller returned from the hamstring injury in May and, for the first time in his career, he was working out of the bullpen full-time. Then-manager Bobby Valentine urged him to pitch exclusively out of the stretch — “It was like watching two different guys out there. One look was when he came out of the windup. The other was out of the stretch, where he looked terrific, crisp and nearly unhittable,” said Valentine to Ron Chimelis in March 2012 — and pitching coach Bob McClure got Miller to realign his feet and stay more in-line towards the plate.
Moving to the bullpen and ditching the windup is hardly unique. Hundreds if not thousands of other pitchers have made the same transition at some point in their careers, including Betances two years ago. The transition doesn’t always work but for Miller it absolutely did. I guess it helps being a lanky 6-foot-7 with a fastball/slider combination that ranks as top 1% in baseball type of stuff, especially by lefty standards.
“In a lot of sense, my attitude changed from trying to hit the corners and inducing this kind of contact to do this or that to kind of ‘I’m going to come at you as hard as I can as quick as I can,'” said Miller while explaining the difference between starting and relieving to YES. “And whatever you had working that day, make it happen for you. You didn’t have to time to fiddle around and figure it out.”
Miller had an incredible 2014 season and that’s why the Yankees signed him, but it’s incorrect to say he’s only had one good year. From 2012-13, his first two years as a full-time reliever, Miller had a 3.04 ERA (3.12 FIP) with an excellent strikeout rate (12.5 K/9 and 32.6 K%) but a still too high walk rate (4.7 BB/9 and 12.2 BB%) in 71 innings. He made the jump from very good to elite in 2014 when he cut his walk rate to 2.5 BB/9 (7.0 BB%), much the same way Robertson cut his walk rate in half in the middle of 2012.
The best thing Bobby Valentine did for the Red Sox was save Miller’s career by sticking him in the bullpen full-time and getting him to ditch his windup. McClure, his pitching coach, helped as well. They helped Miller go from this guy with complicated mechanics in 2011 …
… to this guy with a much simpler, less arm-and-leggy delivery in 2014 …
… and the results have been pretty staggering. Like Betances, Miller went from a guy who appeared to have no big league future as a starter to a dominant, lights out reliever in a relatively short period of time. Like most others, Miller moved to the bullpen as a last resort to try to hang on. And, because he always had Grade-A stuff, he’s thrived in his new role and is set to play a big role for the Yankees going forward.
“I know I’m not going to be perfect. I know I’m going to walk somebody this year,” said Miller to Gordon Edes in February 2012, a statement that holds true in 2015. “It’s a matter of getting ahead in counts and putting myself in position to limit base-runners, but I’ll take my chances with my stuff if I throw the ball in the zone.”
As we’ve seen firsthand the last few seasons, these days it takes way more than 25 players to get through a 162-game season. It usually takes more than the 40 guys on the 40-man roster as well. Players get hurt and/or underperform, and reinforcements are needed. The Yankees used a franchise record 58 different players last season and over the last five seasons they’ve averaged 50 players per year.
Needless to say, the Triple-A affiliate is very important. Many clubs use it as a taxi squad for their extra players, calling up fresh arms for the bullpen as needed or an extra right-handed bat if they’re slated to see a lot of lefty starters that week. Stuff like that. Triple-A is a place to stash spare players, the important depth pieces each team needs throughout the season.
So, with that in mind, let’s look at the projected Triple-A Scranton roster for the upcoming season. Keep in mind that it is only the middle of January and a lot can and will change between now and Opening Day. This is just a snapshot in time. Let’s get to it.
|Gary Sanchez*||Kyle Roller||Eury Perez*||Jose Pirela*|
|Austin Romine*||Nick Noonan||Tyler Austin*||Adonis Garcia|
|Juan Graterol||Rob Refsnyder||Ramon Flores*||Jonathan Galvez|
|Francisco Arcia||Cole Figueroa||Taylor Dugas||Ali Castillo|
|Rob Segedin||Ben Gamel|
Players on the 40-man roster are denoted with an asterisk. Aside from putting the 40-man guys at the top, there’s no particular reason why the players are listed in that order, so don’t read anything into it.
Sanchez, who seems to be a little underrated at the moment, will serve as the RailRiders’ regular catcher after spending a year and a half in Double-A. Romine is the most obvious candidate to back Sanchez up, though he is out of minor league options, so sending him down will require a trip through waivers. I suppose Romine could back up Brian McCann with John Ryan Murphy in Triple-A, but that seems highly unlikely. If Romine does get lost on waivers, Arcia and minor league free agent pickup Graterol are the backup candidates. I’d bet on Arcia backing up Sanchez in that case with Graterol either in Double-A or on the phantom DL.
The first of two locks on the infield is Refsnyder, who will play second and probably bat third if he doesn’t slip onto the big league roster somehow. That would require an injury in Spring Training, most likely. Roller at first base is the other lock and he’ll probably bat cleanup behind Refnsyder. He mashed last summer. Segedin spent some time in Triple-A last year and it didn’t go well (2 wRC+!), though he’ll likely get another shot this year and play his usual third base. Noonan and Figueroa were signed as minor league free agents and are candidates to play short.
The outfield is a little crowded, though I expect Perez to be designated for assignment to clear a 40-man spot for Stephen Drew. (No, the Drew signing still isn’t official. They’re taking their time with that one.) Assuming Perez goes, Dugas and Garcia will share center field duty like they did at times in 2014. Flores and Austin are natural fits in left and right field, respectively, and Pirela will probably wind up playing a different position everyday, like he did last season. He’ll be the rover. That’s assuming he doesn’t win a big league bench job somehow.
That brings us to 12 position players assuming Perez loses his roster spot to Drew. The 13th position player spot will go to one of Gamel, Castillo, or Galvez, and I think Galvez is the obvious choice, mostly because he’s spent the last two years in Triple-A. Gamel (80 wRC+) and Castillo (81 wRC+) weren’t particularly good with Double-A Trenton in 2014. Galvez was another minor league free agent signing and his 101 wRC+ at Triple-A the last two years suggests he will be there again in 2015. He might even start at third over Segedin.
Alright, so after all of that, the position player portion of the RailRiders roster figures to look something like this:
SS Noonan or Figueroa
CF Dugas or Garcia
Bench: Romine/Graterol/Arcia, Noonan or Figueroa, Dugas or Garcia, Galvez
If you want to play around with the batting order, I’d go with Pirela at leadoff, then Flores, Refsnyder, Roller, Sanchez, Austin, Segedin, Dugas or Garcia, then Noonan or Figueroa in the ninth spot. More importantly, Pirela is likely to be the first player called up whenever help is needed simply because he’s already on the 40-man and can play almost anywhere. Not well, mind you, but he can do it. Versatility works in his favor.
Austin, Sanchez, and Flores are all on the 40-man and I think all three will make their MLB debuts this season, even if it’s nothing more than a September call-up. Flores played 63 games around an ankle injury in Triple-A last summer and will probably get the call before Austin if an outfielder is needed. Sanchez isn’t ready to catch in MLB so an awful lot would have to go wrong for him to get called up at midseason. Someone like Noonan or Figueroa could get a random call-up at some point if necessary. We’ll see. For the most part, this is the crop of position players I expect to head to Scranton at the end of Spring Training.
|Starters||RH Relievers||LH Relievers|
|Jose DePaula*||Jose Ramirez*||Chasen Shreve*|
|Bryan Mitchell*||Branden Pinder*||Jacob Lindgren|
|Chase Whitley*||Danny Burawa*||Tyler Webb|
|Zach Nuding||Chris Martin*||James Pazos|
|Matt Tracy||Mark Montgomery||Fred Lewis|
|Caleb Cotham||Diego Moreno|
|Joel De La Cruz|
Update: I totally forgot about RHP Nick Rumbelow, who ended last season in Triple-A. He’ll be in the bullpen mix this year as well. My bad.
Again, don’t read anything into the order of the players in the table. I just listed them as they came to mind. Also, I’m not actually sure if De La Cruz is with the organization any more. He re-signed with the Yankees as a minor league free agent last offseason and I don’t know if he did so again this year.
Anyway, the Triple-A rotation is very much up in the air depending on the needs of the big league team. If the Yankees need to dip into this group of players before Opening Day, Mitchell would presumably get the first shot at the rotation. Whitley made some starts last season and was actually pretty good for a while, but the wheels eventually came off and I don’t think anyone’s looking forward to seeing him in the rotation again anytime soon. I do think he’ll start for the RailRiders just to stay stretched out as an emergency option though.
DePaula’s interesting. The Yankees liked him enough to give him a Major League contract and a 40-man roster spot a few weeks ago, though he’s thrown only 131 innings over the last three years due to injury (51.1 in 2014). He’s a starter and an easy call for the Triple-A rotation. Nuding, Tracy, Cotham and De La Cruz all spent part of last season with the RailRiders and I think I’d put them in that order on a depth chart. Meaning if everyone in the MLB rotation stays healthy, I think the Triple-A rotation would include Mitchell, DePaula, Whitley, Nuding, and Tracy with Cotham and De La Cruz stuck back in Double-A. Assuming De La Cruz is still in the system, of course.
One rotation candidate who is not listed is top pitching prospect Luis Severino, who the Yankees have clearly put on the fast track. I don’t think Severino will start the year with Triple-A Scranton — he made six starts with Trenton at the end of last season — because right now it appears the RailRiders have enough bodies for the rotation. More than enough, really. Plus he’s an actual prospect, not just someone to soak up innings. A few more starts in Double-A won’t be the end of the world. Severino will be up in Triple-A before you know it.
The bullpen is where it really gets a little tight. The Yankees have one open spot in the big league bullpen right now and that spot will go to one of those eleven guys listed in the table above. I fully expect a) there to be a Spring Training competition for that last bullpen spot, and b) that last spot to be a revolving door all year. It always is. Whoever wins the roster spot in camp doesn’t automatically get to keep it all year either. If that player isn’t doing the job, the Yankees will be quick to make a change because they have plenty of options.
Lewis and Moreno have Triple-A time but are non-prospects and low priority players, so they’ll be on the short end of the roster stick come decision time. They could start the year in Double-A or be flat out released if there’s no room. Montgomery, who isn’t much of a prospect anymore because he lost a ton of velocity following his 2013 shoulder injury, was demoted from Triple-A to Double-A last year. I think he’ll get another shot at Triple-A this year. Pazos had a 1.50 ERA (2.78 FIP) in 42 innings from Trenton last season and could wind up back there because of the numbers crunch.
Assuming Lewis, Moreno, and Pazos don’t make the RailRiders roster — and the extra starters (Cotham and De La Cruz) are sent to Double-A instead of the bullpen — we’re down to eight relievers for eight roster spots — the last spot in MLB and seven in Triple-A. Who gets that MLB spot will be determined in camp and I honestly think it’ll go to whoever looks the best during Grapefruit League play. If it’s Ramirez, it’s Ramirez. If it’s Shreve, it’s Shreve. If Martin surprises and wins the last bullpen spot, great. I think that race is wide open.
So, based on all of that, I think the Triple-A rotation will be Mitchell, DePaula, Whitley, Nuding, and Tracy with an eight-man bullpen pool of Shreve, Lindgren, Webb, Ramirez, Pinder, Burawa, Martin, and Montgomery. One of those eight gets to start the year in the show as the last reliever and 25th man on the roster. Guessing which pitcher will be the first to get called up is a fool’s errand. That depends on rest and availability as much as it does performance. The 40-man guys are always a safe bet to get the call first.
It goes without saying this all subject to change. We’re still five weeks from the start of the Spring Training, meaning there is plenty of time for trades and DFAs and injuries and all sorts of other stuff before the start of the regular season. This is just a best guess based on the personnel available right now. The Yankees have built up quite a bit of depth this winter, particularly pitching depth, and that carries over into the minors. Guys like Cotham, Lewis, and Pazos would have been locks for Triple-A in part years, but now it appears they’ll have to return to Double-A until there’s an injury. One way or another, expect to see many of these guys in the Bronx this summer.